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AM Property Management – The Journey of a Property Management Company

Adam: This is Mike and Adam and this is our journey. The journey of starting, running, and growing a successful property management business. During this first episode with you guys, Mike and I just want to explain how we met, and how this company that we’ve created began. The funny part about it is my wife actually picked Mike up in a bar. Mike, I don’t know if you want to tell that story.

Mike: Sure, we were at a charity event called “Tees and Ties” at the Howl at the Moon on International Drive down in Orlando. My wife and I requested a song, “Hang On Sloopy”. For those of you that don’t know, it’s one of the Ohio State theme songs. Basically, anyone in the Ohio State culture knows the importance of “Hang On Sloopy”. So, we requested the song and Monica…

Adam: And my wife is Cuban, so the fact that she even knew what the song was makes me really proud because her family has no allegiance to any football program. I was actually in Connecticut on a consulting project and Monica was at the event. I’m really proud of her for approaching Mike and his wife and asking if they were from Ohio.

Mike: She came up to us, gave me a business card, and said “you would love my husband, we need to get together and go to dinner.” And then, I went home and promptly lost the business card, which happens at most networking events. Kristen and I went looking for it three weeks later and finally found it.

Adam: I remember telling my wife, because she came home and told me “I met this guy, he’s from Ohio, and you’re going to love him” and I remember saying “what did you say to him” and she said “I just told him you’re going to love my husband”. And I remember thinking, no wonder this guy’s not calling, because he thinks she’s a psycho! (laughs). So, I think it was a month later and you actually found the card and called and we went out to dinner and we’ve been best buddies ever since.

Mike: We had a blast. It started as a friendship. We had similar interests, I was in property management and had been since 2003. Adam had already acquired quite a few properties, in the first downturn had picked up some rental properties and was doing really well. Obviously, our conversations Saturday in the pool hanging out quickly became more about business.

Adam: And it’s because, we’re working all the time, trying to make a living and I think both of us had this dream. And we kept thinking, what can we do? With Mike being in property management, I thought well, I want to build property and you know how to manage it, so let’s combine those forces together and create an awesome organization. And I don’t know what year we met.

Mike: Early 2012

Adam: So, four and a half years. Essentially, we looked for a few years for a company. And we bought Atrium when I was 31 years old and Mike, you were 32 years old. You know, we had already had families, we’re caught in the grind of “you need to make money to survive” because we’re no longer getting money from our parents. You know, if you’re 21 or 22, you can go out and start a business. At this point in our lives, like a lot of people, you have to find an organization that makes enough money to pay your bills. So, it took us a while to find one, because we needed a good organization that made enough money to actually pay us, so that our families and wives didn’t hate us! So, we lost one or a couple.

Mike: Then, we talked about starting our own. We were going to try and take out a loan and pay a salary to try and drum up some business and then when we lost the last one it was the perfect storm. I had just gotten offered a promotion that was really tough to turn down. They actually doubled my salary and asked me to move to Boston. Adam had just started looking at this business, but I just had to do what was right for my family. I had a little baby on the way.

Adam: And I was scared, because here I am with this business under contract and the guy that knows how to run it is leaving for Boston and I just thought “I hope this works out.

Mike: So, I had a son coming and I moved up in July and my wife moved up in September. Right at that point, things started to get real with having the baby. My son, Mike, was born on October 15th and we ended up closing on the business on October 31st, 2014, so just 15 days later. At that point, Adam got his first taste of property management and what it was actually like.

Adam: It was exciting. I bought my first company when I was 25 and I bought barbershops which I knew nothing about. So, when I went into Atrium, I knew nothing about property management, other than the properties that I owned and we’re nearly the same scale and size that we are here. But I felt ok, because by not knowing what I don’t know, I would be ok just by working hard. But it was really scary in the beginning, when you’re trying to learn a totally new business that’s already running at 100 miles an hour. The first business I bought was failing and had 1 employee so when you come into something like that, you’re trying to push to get more business. This was a great business, a great organization and I’m just trying to catch-up to what’s actually happening. The owners that we bought from were fantastic and they stayed on with us to help us transition, which then allowed Mike 3 months later to come back down.

Mike: Yeah, so, we came home for the holidays after having my son and Adam and I had been talking about things back and forth and he wanted to have my support and to have me come back and help. We finalized those details around Christmas time in 2014, we started packing up to move back and we did that in the middle of January. And Adam working his tail off. I remember lots of late nights. Before Adam got started in this business, he was in banking. And on Fridays he would always invite me out golfing and he never quite understood why I couldn’t go.

Adam: I could never understand. I would say “why can’t you go?” and he would say “I’m busy” and I would say “save it for another day”. And now, two years in, we haven’t golfed very much.

Mike: (laughs) Twice in two years. It would be like 8:00 on a Friday and I would be finishing up work for the week until I started again on Saturday morning, and we’d go out to dinner and hang out.

Adam: Yeah, I had to always figure out who I was having lunch with on Fridays. (laughs)

Mike: But really, the point of this podcast, and why we waited is that the business anniversary is coming up here in a few days. Mike and I wanted to take this first two years to figure out where this business was and what we need to do. The good news is we’ve doubled the size of the business, in what I call a year and a half because Mike didn’t get here until January and I was learning. In a year and a half we doubled the size of a company that was here for 13 years. So, we have done that without marketing at all and we really didn’t want to market because we wanted to understand what the processes were that we need to have in place to be successful. And the thing that we’ve decided on is that our company culture is the most important thing to us. And you hear people say that all the time and you read books on how culture is so important, but we really believe that. So, rather than having 15 sayings on a wall of what you need to follow to be a good employee of ours, we picked 3 things. And we’ll go through and talk about those as we go through the process and journey together. But the 3 things are: One, Always do the right thing. Mike and I literally have that conversation 15 times a day. Here’s the situation, if you’re in property management or any business, you’re constantly putting out fires. So, every time we ask ourselves “are we doing the right” or “what do we need to do to make sure we’ve done the right thing”. And if we can get all of our employees to believe that and ask that question of themselves every time they’re working with someone, we’re in good shape. The
Second is empathy. What that means to us more or less, are you able to put yourself in a situation of a client or another employee and what are they going through in their lives when they’re screaming at you. It happens all the time in this business. So, what do you have to do to understand that it’s not about you, it’s about what they’re going through, and how are you empathetic in that situation.

Mike: Right. Honestly, it’s something that both of us believe in and it’s a skill that’s absolutely necessary in business and dealing with people. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. You can’t always give people what they want, but you have to be able to make them feel like you actually do care. And the fact that we do care, and that we actually believe that and live that philosophy, that we actually care about our owners, we care about our clients, I think it shines through. And we want to pass that onto our employees. Every situation matters. Every single person and their situation and where they are in their life is important. And whether we’re busy or we don’t agree with what’s going on in the situation, we’re going to do the right thing and we’re going to act compassionately and with empathy towards them. Sometimes you lose your cool just like anybody else, you’re human, but that’s the goal and that’s what we want to strive toward.

Adam: Awesome. And the final thing is, don’t quit because you’re tired, quit because you’re done. It would have been just as easy to say “work your ass off” but we wanted our employees, the people around us, and ourselves to be able to say “don’t stop doing what you’re doing because you’re tired right now or there’s pain. Go through it, get it done, and get it finished. And those three things are really the only three things that matter in running a successful organization. I really believe as long as you can do the right thing for people, you’re understanding their situation, and you bust your ass every day, I think you’re going to do really well in life. And we did those three things this past year and a half without marketing. So, our clients that work with us and our employees that are around us know that’s what we’re about and they want to refer their friends to work with us from a client perspective or an employee perspective.

Mike: Absolutely. One of our employees that recently joined our team last January moved down from Ohio and he said he never knew what hard work was until he started working for Atrium. Part of that is just property management and that fact that it just doesn’t stop. The other part of that is just our philosophy. We don’t stop until the work is done for the day. Regularly, we send out emails at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, after we put the kids to bed and it’s time to get back to work and get your job done. It doesn’t matter when it finishes, it’s just about when you get it done. We’ve got clients and owners that are relying on us.

Adam: I think a big thing that we talk about a lot, when you’re working, like when I was working for Wells Fargo, you’re always working for a bigger paycheck and what’s the next increase in salary. For the first time in our lives, the salary part doesn’t matter. What we’re creating is what really matters and that’s what’s really exciting. The possibilities are endless, and I call you, you know Mike and I talk at all hours of the night and my wife hates it, but I’m constantly saying “hey I just thought of this idea”. And I’d be lying to you if I said I never think about what money I could make, because that’s just not true, but for the first time, it doesn’t really matter as much. What matters is what we create and the legacy of what we build here at Atrium. I think that’s cool for both of us to go through. You hear some people say “ I don’t want to have a partner in business, I want to do it all on my own” and I think that’s crap. Mike and I can slap a high-five 50 times a day and go through the same thing together and I think people miss out on that. And because of what we’re building, neither of us want it to be about us. We want it to be about the company.

Mike: Absolutely, and I think the foundation has always been there that we want to do the right thing. And both of us honestly believe that in all aspects of our lives.

Adam: Because we care about our reputation.

Mike: Yeah, and I think that’s why it works and a lot of other partnerships fail. And I’m looking forward to it. This is just the start and this is podcast number one. We plan on doing one of these every single week to document our journey.

Adam: To show you what we go through. If you’re in property management, awesome. We’ll have some good stories for you. But any kind of business that you’re in. You know, I’ve financed hundreds of businesses throughout my career. I understand how to finance them, how to put capital together, and we’ll go through all of those experiences. The big thing is just us documenting our journey, whether we have four listeners (our wives and us!) or if we get thousands and thousands of people, I think it will be fun to document this process and what we went through each week so we can look back and say “this is what went wrong and this is what went right” and if whoever it is listening out there can hear what we’re going through and it maybe saves you time, that’s what it’s all about. Everything that’s ever been done in society has already been done for the most part. Unless you’re Steve Jobs creating the Apple iPhone. For the majority of us, it has already been done, so what I’ve done my whole life is find someone who has been really successful at something and learn to emulate their process. Hopefully, for some younger kids out there and a younger generation or even adults, they will see some of the things that we’re going through and go “hey, I can do that. These guys are idiots and they’re doing ok and maybe I can be good at that.” I think it will be fun from now until the end so I’m looking forward to it.

Mike: Absolutely, I look forward to taking the journey with you buddy.

Adam: See ya!!